English Animals by Laura Kaye: An outsider’s view…

Cover imageSuch a striking cover for this debut, and entirely fitting given it’s set in the English countryside although animal lovers may get a bit more than they bargained for in this novel about a young Slovakian woman who leaves London to work as an au pair for a couple at Fairmont Hall, the house which is both their home and a financial millstone around their necks. Laura Kaye explores what it is to be an outsider in more ways than one in this funny yet perceptive coming-of-age story.

When Mirka spots her future home from the taxi window, nestled in the English countryside, she thinks it’s perfect but her arrival is heralded by the sound of bickering, a favourite pastime for Richard and Sophie. Soon it becomes clear that there are no children for Mirka to look after. She’s expected to help around the various businesses that keep Fairmont Hall afloat: B & B, weddings, pheasant shoots and – Richard’s latest wheeze – taxidermy for which Mirka turns out to have a surprising talent. Despite their turbulent relationship, Richard and Sophie warmly welcome Mirka into their home – Richard joshing with her and Sophie teaching her how to do the daily crossword. Naturally neat and tidy, she manages to instil some order into this grubbily chaotic household – even the taxidermy becomes a pleasure as she devises tableaux, from a chicks’ hen party to a mouse rave, quickly snapped up by Richard’s hipster client. All seems to be set fair for Mirka, who has fled a violent home, but soon she finds herself falling in love and an affair begins for which one party may have higher hopes than the other.

Kaye tells her story through Mirka’s engaging voice, showing us English country life from an outsider’s point of view. There are some nice little digs about xenophobic attitudes, from Celia’s gullible swallowing of Romanian dognapper rumours to a tendency to lump all foreigners together, muddling Slovakian with Slovenian. Kaye depicts a certain sort of upper-middle-class Englishman painfully accurately in William who is all too recognisable but there’s also affection in her portrayal of English eccentricity and village life. It’s very funny at times although the squeamish may want to skip the more detailed taxidermy descriptions. All this is framed by an involving and appealing story peopled by well-observed characters. A thoroughly enjoyable novel, undemanding but well turned out enough to make me eager for more from Kaye.

14 thoughts on “English Animals by Laura Kaye: An outsider’s view…”

    1. That wold be very interesting to hear, Marina. It’s a light easy read but very well observed. I thought that Slovakian/Slovenian confusion was particularly well done, one that I’ve actually heard, sad to say.

      1. Yep, just like I’ve heard Bucharest/Budapest confused on occasion. In fact, this is why I ended up NOT going to Oxford – because when they replied to offer me a place, they sent it to Budapest, Romania.

  1. I love the cover, but I have to admit that when I first saw it I thought it was a nonfiction book about English animals. 🙂
    This is the second review I’ve read this week about this book – both good!

    1. I see what you mean. Yes, I enjoyed this much more than I was expecting. It’s got a nice vein of humour running through it. Sharply observed, too.

  2. This sounds like a lovely, fun romp of a book which, for some reason, made me think of Cold Comfort Farm though I suspect the books aren’t alike at all! Strange how associations work. The cover is very lovely, colourful and fun and from the sounds of things quite representative of the book.

    1. Funny you should mention Comfort Farm, Belinda. It popped into my head at some point while reading it – I think it as prompted by the taxidermy.

  3. One I enjoyed too Susan… you’ve captured it very well and yes I too sadly recognise the awful yet apparenty ‘thriving’ (given Brexit) bigotry themes it touches on. The mostly subtle humour, with odd dash of proper chuckles, is great and balanced well with the darker aspects.

    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed it, too, Poppy. Very sharply observed, and you’re right about the humour balancing the bigotry.

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